Fringe, Ep. 4.21, “Brave New World (Part 1)”: Uneven ep raises stakes, concerns for finale
Fringe Review, Season 4, Episode 21: “Brave New World (Part 1)”
Written by J. H. Wyman, Jeff Pinkner, and Akiva Goldsman
Directed by Joe Chappelle
Airs Fridays at 9pm (ET) on FOX
This week, on Fringe: Walter bakes, Olivia and Astrid are fighters, and Belly likes almonds
Much of this season has centered around the reemergence of David Robert Jones. He’s been a fantastic villain, keeping a few steps ahead of the Fringe team by shrouding his larger agenda in mystery. Jared Harris has been a blast in the role, dripping with malevolent glee, chewing the scenery when appropriate, and dialing down the camp and up the intensity when his scenes call for it. This week, we bid Jones a fond farewell as he once again goes out by Peter’s hand, with an assist from his own technology (losing half his face in the process). As ever, Harris gives his scenes his all, making Jones memorable and interesting, but this doesn’t stop the reveal of Jones’ sidekick status from feeling like a last second switcheroo, an unprepared, flimsy attempt at shock value.
After an entire season building up the genius and determination of Jones, his utter marginalization is frustrating- by now, we know Jones better than Bell and have a much stronger relationship with him. Perhaps if there had been even a whisper of someone else working with Jones this wouldn’t be the case, but time and again, all season, the arced villains have spoken of working with Jones, of meeting him and believing in his cause or vision. One can’t help but feel like this decision was more predicated on Leonard Nimoy’s availability than anything the writers had planned from the beginning of the season. It’s also a shame we never to got see the writers explore the Olivia and Jones dynamic, now that she has memories of their original timeline encounter. The most interesting aspect of Jones-as-villain was that, because of Peter’s unique situation, he was a variable Jones couldn’t possibly prepare for. He had one up on Jones and the mastermind was no longer all knowing. With Jones’ death, this potential storyline goes out the window, and it’s too bad.
The mechanics required to get Walter and Astrid in place for the end-of-episode reveal of William Bell (and, significantly, Walter’s Belly- it’s strange no one thought of OtherBell as an explanation for Bell’s work popping up despite his supposed death) are a stretch, even for Fringe. We’ve seen pseudoscience function as magic on the show before, and the technobabble earlier in the episode as Walter diagnoses the nanite situation fits easily in the standard crazy science realm of the show. Once he’s baking lemon and pig brain cakes to dust for prints, however, this subplot takes a turn and doesn’t look back. Not only are the conclusions Walter reaches utterly separate from the evidence in front of him, but his methodology doesn’t make sense.
Cortexiphan is a drug that activates parts of the developing human brain and enables extraordinary abilities in children. Cortexiphan injected into a pig’s brain, and then pureed (there weren’t any chunks in that lemon cake), shouldn’t be able to lift prints any better than regular dusting powder. The handy color coding is also rather on the nose- apparently cortexiphan prints look like regular dusted-for prints, but almondy prints are bright orange? Then Walter’s newly remembered factoid about Belly’s eating habits prompts a trip to the import warehouse, which just happens to be his new base of operations? With Bell so cleverly and completely covering his tracks for the past seven years, this seems like a pretty convenient detail for him to have overlooked. As compared to, say, Walter and Astrid using the cortexi-prints to figure out who doctored the visitor’s log and putting the pieces together from there.
While these aspects of the episode may irk, it’s important to mention how much the writers get right. The progression of Olivia’s cortexabilities is interesting and, because of her brief discussion with Walter, this feels logical. Rebecca Mader is nice as the guinea pig of the week, grounding the craziness of the Fringe team’s world with mac and cheese and midnight shifts. The climactic fight scene between Peter, Peter/Olivia, and Jones is well staged and exciting, and the Sunbeam of Doom is clever. The scoring is strong throughout, the effects team do a great job, and it’s fantastic to see Astrid get more to do than hold test tubes. More than anything, the episode succeeds in its character moments. The scenes with Olivia and Peter sing. Their early episode discussion of potential homes is beautifully simple and their conversations are refreshingly real and subdued. Despite the above concerns for where the finale is headed, as long as the writers keep the strong hold on the central relationships demonstrated this week, Fringe will be just fine.
What did you think of this episode? Anyone else think Astrid has a LemonPigBrainCakeofRegeneration in her future? How excited are you for season 5? Post your thoughts below!